Faith and Life: Letting Italy lead the way

And so I return from monastic life. It was an experience that I could not have anticipated. Monasteries these days are still places of peace and prayer. But my experience of fellowship with new friends, food and drink were not quiet.

The moments I had in community were loud and full of life. I took Italian lessons, wrote, prayed and had many unique experiences and distinct lessons from God.

This was not my first trip to Italy. I worked there some years ago and traveled to an island a few years back for lots of sun, relaxation and water sports. I did not experience beaches this time. Instead, I viewed Italians and travelers in the city of Florence strutting their fashionable attire and admired the many churches (dormas). I walked the tiny, cobbled streets and found treasures everywhere I looked. I felt that this was a place I could live.

I was also keenly aware that just a bit away lay Rome, where Paul the Apostle once walked. I felt the presence of God and the secular society. Extremes were strong and experienced simultaneously. I felt neither complete holiness, nor absolute evil. Yet, I was strangely at peace everywhere I traveled.

And then I traveled to Tuscany. It was here that I was refreshed in my call to help people, and at the same time I strongly felt my own humanity. As I traveled from city to city, the familiar feeling of adventure coursed through my veins — it literally felt this way. This has always been a part of my being, yet often squelched because of my many responsibilities.

I experienced fearlessness as I drove the unfamiliar, winding roads in the darkness. I felt God with me, allowing this time of reprieve and approving it. Yet, years ago I may have been scared to venture out alone as a woman.

Learning more Italian taught me — who is often the teacher — the humility of learning unfamiliar material again. I do not know if my professor was religious, but to end our lessons he took me to see the churches of Pienza and we spoke only in Italian about me being a pastor, a therapist and learning the Italian language.

It was not until the last day that my professor discovered I have three children. I do not know why, but this tickled him and he laughed — beautiful laughter — for about five minutes straight, only to gain control and giggle again. He could not believe the many hats I wore and the fact that I have three children.

Ah, yes, Italy. I learned not to judge people by what they seem to be on the outside. And I learned the beauty of all people, Christians and non-Christians. I felt embraced by everyone.

In the afternoons I would return to my flat before our communal dinner. It is the exact place that the movie "The English Patient" was filmed. If you watch that film, you will see my flat, with steps leading up to it.

So what does all this have to do with psychology and faith? Everything. Our small worldview and big-city mindset causes us to miss many precious people and experiences that a slower lifestyle allows.

I wish I never had to leave Italia. I learned to be quiet and not feel anxious about it. I learned God loves even those that do not serve Him. And I discovered myself again — the greatest self-care we can give ourselves.

I realized what I was created to do, all over again, much as I felt when I was born again as a young adult. I felt fresh and new. And this regenerated me to again step into my life and help people.

I pray each of us has rare moments like this in our life. It was not an easy trip to pull off. But a remarkable moment in life like this can keep us running this race called life.

The Rev. KIMBERLIE ZAKARIAN can be reached by e-mail at kimberlie.zakarian@gmail.com or by mail at La Vie Counseling Center c/o the Rev. Kimberlie Zakarian, La Vie Counseling Center, 650 Sierra Madre Villa, Suite 110, Pasadena, CA 91107.

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